Paragliding, in simple terms, is an activity where pilots fly down a 🏔️ hill with a wing. The wing is made out of durable materials, weighs around ⚖️ 5 kg and is completely foldable, so you can carry it in a backpack. Since the wing is designed to sink slowly, you lose about 1 meter of height every 8 meters going forward.
Paragliding is not parachuting. You're not jumping from an airplane. You're not even jumping from a cliff. Usually, you're slowly walking down a slope. Then you gradually lift, your feet 👟 lose the ground and you're floating into the air. There's not a huge adrenaline rush.
Paragliding, at the basic level, is not an extreme sport at all. You also don't have to be an athlete. A common saying goes: If you're fit enough to cycle 🚴♂️, you're fit enough to paraglide.
Flight time ⏱ ranges from a few minutes, down a small hill, up to several hours, using rising air.
In the beginning, when you're flying alone for the first few times, you will probably experience fear. But soon, you will be getting more used to the secure seat in the harness. The fear fades away and is replaced by a sense of freedom. A sense of being connected to nature 🌲☘️😍.
Statistically, paragliding is as safe as driving a car 🚗. But of course, there are two sides to safety.
On the one side, paragliding equipment constantly becomes safer. Wings become more stable and better mitigate mistakes. Harnesses protect you better. A reserve parachute is always part of the equipment, so in case something happens up in the air, you can throw that.
Paragliding requires preparation ⏳. That means you will need to get training, proper equipment, and insurance. You will need to judge weather conditions and launch sites. You will need to know your own skill and listen to your fear. And if all that preparation is done well, paragliding is a very safe sport.
On the other side, paragliding is still an adventure sport. When you do make a big mistake, the consequences will be servere ⛑. As you would expect, you can find a lot of accidents on the internet. Examples are pilot mistakes like stalling the wing, or errors of judgement like launching in the wrong weather conditions. So let's keep that in mind. You can say: "it's as safe as you make it".
You can go paragliding where ever the wind isn't too strong or too turbulent. The question is rather: how will you get into the air? There are several options.
The most common way is to launch from a high starting point, like a hill or a mountain ⛰. In that case you will need a wide enough slope that tolerates a possible cancelling of the launch. There must be no obstacles and no lee situation, so the wind can flow freely and without turbulences 💨.
Another possibility is a coast 🏖. The wind often comes from the water, pushing you inland. When you have a dune with a small height difference, you will be able to get into the air and use the rising air in front of the dune to fly along the coastline. This is called "soaring".
The third way is using a winch tow 🌀 with a rope attached to your harness. As the rope is pulled in, you will gain speed and the wing creates lift. In the flat land, this can be used to gain enough altitude to fly for a good while.
In any case, once you're up in the air, the challenge is to stay there or to keep rising. So Pilots look for thermals, which are columns of warm, rising air.
A very first step could be a tandem flight. But it's really not necessary. Some people say that a tandem flight can overwhelm you. They suggest to simply start with individual lessons.
First, find a flying school 🏫 to get training. That's important. Paragliding is not something you just teach yourself. There are a lot of schools out there, you'll find them on the internet. Most schools are professional, but if you go to a school and you don't like it, for whatever reason, change the school. Good training is essential.
Schools usually have trial courses. Those allow you to do a few lift-offs 🛫 and landings 🛬 from a tiny hill to get a first impression. Booking a trial course can be a good idea when you're not fully convinced that paragliding is something for you.
Once you're sure, book the full training at your school. Getting a license 🎓 usually takes several weeks and includes both, a theoretical exam and a practical test.
The most simple way is to stick to your school. Most schools are distributers for a small local selection of manufacturers. Your flight instructor will be able to judge your skill. So if you go with what's recommended to you, you won't make a bad choice.
But it might also get a little expensive. Schools will want to sell you new equipment. That's part of their business. So what you should do in any case is to educate yourself on what's out there. That's where Gliderbase comes in. Here, you have a lot of information on all the different wings, colors, takeoff weight ranges and so on.
Probably the smartest choice you can make in terms of money is to get a used wing first, have proper checks done, and fly that for the first 1-2 years. You won't be shy ground handling, because you won't fear mistreating brand new equipment. After that, if you're still going regularly, you will have learned good enough wing control to transition to a new wing. Harnesses on the other hand last quite long and should really fit your size, so it's not a bad idea to get a new one right away.
In any case, prepare properly and fly safely ✌️.
Gliderbase is a paraglider comparison tool. It helps you find a good pre-selection of wings, before you dive deeper into manufacturer details or test reports.
Examples, Gliderbase allows to you find:
👉 A-certified wings, 🔵 blue, light-weight
👉 B-certified wings, min. 24 m2, max. 🎒 5kg weight
👉 Colorful tandem wings with a high max. weight
Or any other combination of factors you can think of.
You can enter your ⚖️ takeoff weight to find the right wing size. The wing's own weight is automatically taken into account. Then you can directly compare sizes of different wings.
Finally, you can add your picture to the pilots-tab of a wing, to signal that you fly this wing. More features are under development. If you would like to see a certain feature, please let us know.
The content above is based on individual experience and research. More details including sources can be found in a blog post I created some time ago. Still, I am not a paragliding instructor, nor a highly experienced pilot. Inform yourself in multiple places, before you make a decision.
Images from Unsplash and Pexels. Thanks to the kind authors.